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Tivoli Theatre Presents – After Hours Film Society – Blue Caftan
May 15 @ 7:30 pm
Reviewed by Marya E. Gatesney | The Playlist
Maryam Touzani’s Film is a Rich, Vibrant Ode To Complex Relationships
The camera pans over folds of lush blue satin fabric. Quickly fingers enter the frame, caressing it with great care. From this tender opening, Maryam Touzani (“Adam”) crafts her latest film, “The Blue Caftan,” with as delicate a hand as its lead, artisan Halim (Saleh Bakri, “Costa Brava, Lebanon”), does in sewing his ceremonial caftans.
Halim is a maalem, or maker of traditional caftans, an art that was passed down from his father. He runs the business he inherited with his wife, Mina (Lubna Azabal, “Paradise Now”). Halim is the artisan, while Mina is a shrewd businesswoman, making deals for fabrics and handling their temperamental clientele. They live and work in the medina of Salé, Morocco where traditions still abound, but within them lies many great tensions. Touzani fills the world with a symphony of cityscape sounds, from gulls and prayer to footsteps on cobblestones, and even the ever-present music from a nearby barber.
As we’re introduced to Youssef (Ayoub Missioui, in a striking film debut), their new apprentice, the first of these tensions arise. There is an attraction between Halim and Youssef, who shares more than just Halim’s delicate craftsman’s demeanor. Through stolen glances, they share unsaid truths, observed quietly by Mina. Rather than act on his feelings for Youssef, Halim cruises Turkish baths, finding a release but not love. In these sequences, Touzani’s camera lingers on the naked bodies of bathing men in the same way she filmed the fabric earlier, taking in their beauty without fetishizing it.
Halim, whose expressive eyes are perpetually filled with longing and sadness and desire, desperately clings to the traditions held within his craft, despite other traditions having led him to either try to repress his sexuality or feel ashamed when he expresses it. Unfortunately, it’s these beautiful traditions that are being abandoned by those around him. The rich women who order from him want the status that comes with his level of workmanship, but they do not want to wait for the time it takes to these garments by hand. One woman snidely asks why they don’t use a sewing machine because people today can’t tell the difference anyway.
Touzani, clearly, can tell the difference, relishing in these disappearing traditions. She films the blue fabric and the thick golden threads with such care, showing every stitch as the titular garment is being made. Halim knows exactly how each kind of fabric should be treated and how it should fall on the body. Yet, each woman dictates how tight they want it as if their taste is more important than what the fabric was designed to do. What good is there in holding on to these traditional crafts if no one even respects them anymore?
On the flip side, if no one respects traditions anymore, why is Halim allowing them to hold him back from expressing his true feelings to Youssef? This tension is complicated further by his complex marriage with Mina. As the relationship between Halim and Youssef intensifies, Mina struggles both with jealousy and also with the ways in which she expresses her love for her husband. Although they often bicker, one tender moment includes her making the traditional dish of Rfissa for him on an ordinary evening. Slowly we learn that Mina’s anger is not rooted solely in the appearance of Youssef in their lives. A terminal illness has ravaged her body and she knows her time with Halim is limited. The two laugh and fight in only the way two people who have spent a lifetime together ever really do. It is this closeness she is already mourning.
A similar closeness she senses is beginning to form with Youssef. In one beautiful sequence, Halim, Youssef, and Mina share a joyous dance to the music from the barber’s boombox down below. They are free and they are happy as they sway to the beat, a swirl of bodies and emotions. Later, Mina implores Halim to not be afraid to love. There is an understanding between the two, and a deeply woven connection that will never break, even as Halim begins to live his life openly with Youssef.
“The Blue Caftan” deftly explores the complexities of interpersonal and romantic relationships. Halim, Mina, and Youssef share a love for each other and for their shared craft. They want to find happiness in this life without any regard for how society dictates they should. Touzani’s film is a rich, vibrant ode to love in all its many forms.
$7.00 Members | $11.00 Non-Members
5021 Highland Avenue | Downers Grove, IL
630-968-0219 | classiccinemas.com
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